Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned Filipinos refusing to get the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine that they will be thrown in jail for doing so. The president’s remarks stemmed from his frustration over the slow pace of COVID-19 inoculations in the Southeast Asian country. Duterte’s threat contradicted statements by Philippine health officials that vaccination against the disease is not required.

In a late-night televised address on June 21, Duterte remarked: “You choose: [Get the] vaccine or I will have you jailed. Otherwise, I will order all the village captains to have a tally of the people who refuse to be vaccinated. Because if not, I will have ivermectin meant for pigs injected into you.”

The tough-talking leader continued: “Don’t get me wrong, there is a crisis in this country. I’m just exasperated by Filipinos not heeding the government.” He also exhorted people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. “But for as long as you are here and you are a human being, and can carry the virus, get vaccinated,” Duterte said.

The president’s comments came after several vaccination sites in the capital city of Manila saw low turnout. According to a report by Philippine news outlet Rappler, the city government dropped its “no walk-in” policy for individuals wanting to get inoculated after the dismal turnout on June 21.

Manila Mayor Francisco Moreno Domagoso said on the same day: “I really don’t believe in the scheduling system … and the ‘no walk-in’ policy because [COVID-19] vaccines should be made available to anybody.” He reiterated this in a virtual briefing on the night of June 21, saying that the capital will go “back to the open policy” effective June 22.

Manila’s “no walk-in” policy for COVID-19 vaccinations began on June 21, but only 4,402 individuals showed up out of the 28,000 invited by the city government for their vaccination appointments.

Of the 70 million people the Philippine government aims to fully vaccinate this year, only 2.1 million people have completed their vaccination schedule as of June 20. Based on data from Johns Hopkins University, the Philippines currently has 1.37 million COVID-19 cases and 23,928 fatalities. 

The Philippine vice president is taking a lighter approach toward vaccination

On the other hand, Duterte’s second-in-command took a lighter approach to making Filipinos get the COVID-19 vaccine. Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo, in partnership with Domagoso, launched a drive-through vaccination program on June 22 for tricycle and pedicab drivers in the capital. 

In a Facebook post, Robredo announced: “For the first rollout, tricycle, pedicab and delivery riders from the city of Manila … will be vaccinated on June 22 and 23.” The vaccine recipients were counted as part of the Philippines’s A4 priority group, which includes essential workers and law enforcement officers. According to the Manila Times, the vaccine express program was originally scheduled to launch on June 20 “if the vaccines procured by the city government arrive on time.” However, this did not happen – and the rollout pushed through two days later.

Later, the vice president said she is willing to expand the “Vaccine Express” program to the central region of Visayas and the southern region of Mindanao. Her response followed a lawmaker’s request for help in distributing vaccines to other areas.

Deputy House Speaker Rufus Rodriguez called on the vice president to implement the program in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iloilo. “Let us not ignore the situation in the provinces. Manila is not safe as long as there are people outside the capital region getting the virus,” he said.

Rodriguez added that both cities have seen a rise in COVID-19 cases, thus their immediate need of vaccines. Furthermore, the legislator remarked that the capital “has already given so much vaccines to its residents.”

Robredo replied in the affirmative, telling Rodriguez that her office is “very much willing” to implement the program outside Manila. She added: “[I] will ask our team to coordinate with yours.”

Despite separate efforts by both Duterte and Robredo to get Filipinos inoculated against COVID-19, many still reported adverse reactions following vaccination. A May 2021 report by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration said it received 32,754 case reports with 79,166 suspected adverse reactions. The agency that as of May 9, it received 91 fatal events connected to COVID-19 vaccination.

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